Monday, 15 December 2014

Torsetfossen (WI4), Hemsedal

Murilo was keen to maximise the short daylight hours with as much climbing as feasibly possible. Langesetfeltet sounded a sure bet given it's Northerly aspect and high altitude. There looked to be numerous short climbs around 4/4+. Of course we needed the approach road to be open in order to get anywhere near the climbs and as it turned out it wasn't. Nevertheless the morning detour provided some inspiring views of Hydnafossen.

Hydnafossen

Inspiring view over with, we needed to find a plan B. Luckily formulating plan B's was becoming second nature in recent weeks. I knew Torsetfossen had been climbed around 10 days prior so this seemed like a good choice.

From the car park the route looked to have a couple of really steep sections. With half the walk-in completed the route was still looking rather steep and slightly intimidating. Only when in direct proximity did the line of weakness present. A lower tier had an obvious channel that would hopefully facilitate bridging, whilst the upper tier looked to have a welcome escape on the right in order to avoid some intimating ice pillars.

Beneath the route

Murilo led the first pitch, which proved not only steep but also exhilarating. Fortunately the channel offered some great stepped bridging to facilitate rests. Furthermore some positive hooks presented towards the back of the channel where the the ice was not fully formed. The downside was that the screws proved harder than expected to place due to the general lack of compact ice. A couple of screws placed low down was followed by a barren patch without gear until towards the top. Murilo looked a little tense but the climbing at least always looked in control.

Start of the steep climbing
Nearing the top

He made a belay between the two tiers from where I led the remainder of the route. The difficulties through the top tier proved much briefer than below, although lacked screws again where most needed and maybe the ice was a little less cooperating. Only after I'd given Murilo a small black eye from falling ice did I cut my eyebrow in similar manner. I arrived at a rather dubious belay consisting of a pair of ropes hanging from a tree high above, which joined at a heavy duty maillon. One of the ropes was encased in a pillar of ice. The ends of the other rope, which was free of the ice, were not looking in best of condition but at least everything looked well frozen in place.

Top of the second steep section
Our frozen rope belay

Above us lay a narrow gully, which didn't look overly difficult, or in particularly great condition either. We decided to climb it nonetheless in order to make the most of the day. As it happened the climbing was rather taxing but enjoyable with some proper Scottish moves. I was presented with an assortment of thin ice, deep snow, running water and rubbish ice screws. The steepest section of ice was particularly problematic as I didn't trust the ice above for fear of both my axes simultaneously ripping. And so I back-and-footed my way up the adjacent walls on small blobs of ice in order to gain enough height to revert into to bridging position and gain the step. It felt maybe M5 but probably much easier were the ice reliable enough to simply heave on. Also probably much easier for the second who could heave and hope without needing to worry about that laughably poor ice screw below him.

View up the gully...
...and back down

The gully petered out after thirty meters and so we set about abseiling from whence we had come. We
convinced ourselves that the frozen maillon belay would be ok for this purpose but prudently we backed-up it up for the heavier climber to test it out first (me of course). Soon we were back at our bags and content with having ticked an even better route than yesterday. It all boded well for what might follow in the coming months.


End of the abseil descent

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Haugsfossen (WI4), Hemsedal

We had lost the best part of a day's climbing due to Murilo's flight from the UK having been delayed as a result of the air traffic control computer failure. He landed on Saturday at 4pm instead of the planned Friday at 11pm but at least this meant a drive to Hemsedal at a sociable hour with no need to sleep in the back of the car on route as originally planned. Sunday morning we were feeling fresh and after my first winter outings the previous weekend I was feeling ready to start ticking some better known classics in the area.

It was another cold day in Hemsedal. Haugsfossen looked in a climbable condition from the road and so begged for a closer view. Fortunately we were not the first to do so this winter meaning there was an easy trail through the snow to the base of the route. Also helped by the reduced snow cover compared to last weekend. The left side of the icefall looked thin but there was an obvious channel of well-formed ice towards the right side. Elsewhere Indre and Ytre Haugsfoss were looking too thin to contemplate.

Haugsfossen (left) and Indre Haugsfoss (right)

Beneath the route

I led the lower half of the fall, which was beautifully formed. My axes bit into the ice with ease. Cauliflower formations often offered strong natural hooks between them. The narrow passage of thicker ice forced me to follow a line rather than me dictate my passage, which made route-finding a more interesting affair. Steep climbing was interspersed with more gentle breathers. For the large part the ice was thick enough for long screws, although a couple of brief thin sections still existed. Here water flowed without noise behind the ice like a silent movie. This contrasted with the high-pitched atmospheric twangs of tiny snapping icicles as I made space for my axe placements. I made a belay at about half height so that we could equally share the lead. 

Leading the lower part of the icefall
(photo credit: Murilo Lessa)
Midway up the icefall

The angle in the upper half of the icefall eased off generally with just a couple of steeper sections. Extra care was needed at the icefall's head, where the ice became much leaner and the snow much deeper.

Close to the top

We finished the route in good time and so optimistically hoped to squeeze in a second route in before dusk. The problem was that there was nothing worth leading in the immediate vicinity. We drove to Grøndalen and marched up to Helgesetbekken but by which time it was 14.50. Already the light was flat and fading as it had been snowing throughout the afternoon with low snow clouds lingering. More to the point the route didn't look something that we were going to quickly run up as the lower half looked particularly steep (certainly not a 3+ in current form). We thought better of it and went for a coffee instead like true hardened climbers. All the more motivation for something challenging the following day though.

Helgesetbekken. Not WI3+ currently

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Øvre Lauvdøla (WI3), Hemsedal

Our initial plan was to try the climbs at Botnajuvet but having descended most of the way into the Lauvdølejuv ravine we decided to switch plans. Partly because there was still a lot of running water running through the ravine and partly because I could sense that Anna was finding the approach a little too protracted, given the amount of snow we were wading through in just our boots. We still needed to cross the water and then ascend back up the other side of the valley, which was looking a big day out currently.

Descending to the Lauvdølejuv ravine on route to Botnajuvet
(Shortly before aborting)

We turned around and ploughed back uphill with the plan to head for the moderate icefall called Øvre Lauvdøla, which was relatively close-by as the crow flies. The problem for non-crows was that we were on the East side of the Lauvdølejuv ravine running North-South and we needed to be on the West side. The ravine also forked a short way south with our climb lying in the far right hand branch. There were no presenting opportunities to cross to the other side due the ravine being hemmed in by steep rock walls. Further to this our map showed the water in the left-hand branch turning sharply Eastwards a little further South so we were likely walking into a dead-end. We cut our losses and headed back to the car knowing that we could cross the water at the bridge adjacent to the car park, which was incidentally what the guidebook advised anyway. It was 11:30 by the time we returned to the car. A round trip of around 2.5 hours and quite a few calories burnt. Time for some early lunch. At which point I couldn't help but notice how much colder this spot was compared to the previous day.

Second attempt we crossed the bridge and then cut west as indicated by the guidebook. As it happened the left-hand branch of the Lauvdølejuv ravine continued further south beyond where the stream cut Eastwards but by this point it was shallower and much easier to find a way to descend into and out of. Then more bashing through snow and trees to the ravine where our route lay. I had entered into my phone the coordinates of the route but as it turned out the route was actually a few hundred metres further South along the ravine on the Western side. 

We descended into the ravine whilst there was good opportunity, which was a mistake as the water running through it was only superficially frozen. Unexpectedly the surface ice would crack, at which point I would throw myself forward onto all fours in order to spread my load. Anna resorted to crawling on a couple of occasions. All good fun but in hindsight the easier option would have been to follow the East bank of the ravine until directly opposite the the icefall and then descend via another easy slope.

Descending the ravine to our route

Preventative measures to stop the ice breaking

The good news after all our exploration was that Øvre Lauvdøla was looking in surprising good shape for so early in the season. I eagerly geared-up for some long overdue climbing.

Our route

The ice was pleasantly thick although proved much harder work compared to the previous day. No doubt due to the higher altitude and generally colder temperatures than at Grøndalen. Often multiple swings would be needed to adequately pierce the ice and gain purchase although the ice was partially cooperative by not dinner plating overly. Needless to say all my ice screws felt totally solid. The climbing was enjoyable although a little short-lived to really stand out. It was just what was needed for the first weekend out though, given that the goal was primarily to find climbable ice. It's a shame there was not more ice in the vicinity as I had quickly warmed to the secluded feel of the ravine.

Placing ice screws at will

Anna tried her hand at leading the route as well but wasn't liking the hardness of the ice and so ab'ed off from half height. But only after yelling some expletives at her ice axes that I couldn't possibly repeat here, all of which had no effect. Anyway, this meant I got to climb the route again for extra mileage points and Anna got to second it, which she managed without drama.

Anna leading the route

There seemed a remarkably easier way to return to our car verses how we had approached. From the top of the route we crossed the fence and followed a gentle SW-S-SE curving arc towards an isolated hut besides the cross-country ski trail. From here it was an easy walk along the piste back to the car park. 25 minutes total.

So two routes in two days as planned. Just what the Doctor ordered and a good foundation for another foray next weekend.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Bøttnebekken (WI3), Hemsedal

The previous Saturday I had failed to get anything climbed...

The initial plan had been to try Demonstranten on Skogshorn but we had started too late. Getting the car stuck in the snow hadn't helped matters. Then there was the snow, which was deeper than expected. But apart from these mild excuses the main problem was that we had underestimated the time needed for the approach and started far too late. It was already 9am with the start of the route feeling a long way off and the parked car still relatively close. We conservatively opted to bail whilst we still had an alternative and attempt to find some ice in the valley.

...The problem was that we didn't have a plan in reserve and didn't know the area particularly well. We flicked through the guidebook looking for options. Flagetfossen looked a possibility but we couldn't find the route (we were looking to the right of Flagetfossen rather than to the left). Then we drove to Haugsfossen but the top of the route looked a bit thin. Then Guljuvet but both the river and routes were only partially frozen. By this time it was after 2pm so we headed home. It had been a fun exploring the area nevertheless and I anticipated I would be back in the weeks to come anyway.

Understandably this weekend I was keen to 'get something done'. Bøttnebekken sounded a fairly safe early season choice. It was also the closest route to our hytte in Grøndalen and also close to the road, which meant we had the luxury of waiting until sunrise to properly view the route from the car door before committing. As it happened, we failed to spot the route due to the amount of snow coverage in the upper half, however but things looked positive due to the amount of ice that the nearby route called Helgesetbekken was holding.

Bøttnebekken looking nondescript from the roadside

We made the short bash up through the trees with relative ease. Bøttnebekken looked thin but unquestionably climbable. There was running water towards the left-hand side but up the centre the ice looked adequately thick and stable. It was time to rack-up and get the winter season started...

Anna beneath the route

The initial steep section provided some enjoyable bridging and firm axe placements before the steepness eased back to a slabby angle. Then some plasticy white ice that felt great for axe placements but quickly cracked and collapsed under the weight of my crampons. Gear in the lower portion of the climb was limited to a few short screws in selected places but their spacing felt sufficient enough for comfort and my axe placements were always solid.

The winter season begins...

Easy angled ice

Then at about 20m height I placed a couple of long screws in a more ample flow of ice to steady the boat. From here there was a short traverse out left and up to another short steeper section. This one was maybe slightly harder than the first one but overall the climbing felt steady. Where the route eased back to slabby climbing the ice often thinned out and became buried under a coverage of snow. This was particularly true above the second steeper section, where a little hunting around was needed in order to find sufficient purchase.

Anna led the final section of ice to a tree belay at the top. From here we were treated to a great view over the valley under clear blue skies. Very unlike my last winter outing I thought!

The view

We made the descent by foot back to our bags via gentle slopes to the left of the route. By this time it was around 1pm. Possibly time for a second route but it would be tight. Better to go for a drive and check-out options for the next day we thought...

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Big Bruises on Aiguilles Rouges

So all had initially gone to plan... We had climbed the route called Manhattan (Kaboul) on Aiguilles Rouges, which was largely problem free, albeit with an awkward crux sequence. We had finished in good time so opted to continue up the 4c and 5b pitches to the summit of the Middle Bastion. This meant descending by foot rather than by abseil but we had plenty of time before the last cable car departed. We zigzagged down the scree slopes and circled beneath the cliffs towards our bags at the base of the route. And this is where it all went wrong...

Some photos from the climb first:

Wide bridging on the 6a crux pitch
Anna leading the penultimate pitch
Also some fantastic views as the clouds cleared in the afternoon

Loose rocks of all sizes littered the hillside. Anna's feet slipped and triggered a couple of large boulders in her vicinity to roll in her direction. Both rolled over her ankles and feet despite her best efforts to scamper out of the way. My first impression was that she had largely avoided contact but then it became immediately clear that all was not well as Anna couldn't really stand. Her left leg looked already very swollen and misshapen around her lower third of tibia, where her leg was soon maybe 50% bigger in girth than normal. It looked broken. What to do?...

Fortunately an trio of climbers from Geneva, who had climbed the same route as us, were descending a short distance behind and were on hand to help. One of them had a first aid kit and set about trying to splint Anna's leg. Then there was the immediate problem of how to get Anna down from the mountain. The hardest part would be descending the loose scree slopes to reach the path, which still lay a few hundred metres away. We at least had strength in numbers now. The tallest member of the other group and I then lifted Anna under the arms to standing. Fortunately she was able to weight bare through her right leg. Then we started down the slopes in clumsy, unsteady fashion. The others kindly carried our bags. Trying to carry Anna, whilst minding my step was no easy task. The difficulty lay not just with the unstable ground but also with it's undulating nature. It was very difficult to find a passage flat enough for three of us to walk side-by-side. On a couple of occasions my feet slid but I managed to keep control without dropping Anna. For Anna it was no easy ride either as she was using a lot of strength to hold the tension in her shoulders. We stopped so that she could let her arms recover then tried the crossed arms seat technique instead to attempt and make things easier for her. The higher centre of gravity made things too precarious on the loose scree slopes though and so we quickly reverted back. With a fair amount of tenacity we made it to the path.

We were still around 500m from the Index chairlift but at least we were on a relative highway now. Piggy-back seemed the most efficient form of transport. Anna was pretty easy to carry and so I managed it in one push, although the final uphill stretch was a bit of a workout for the thighs.

The attendant stopped the chairlift so that Anna could board. The Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc was currently in progress with the course directly passing the Flégère cable car station. This meant that first aid assistance was in the fortunately in immediate vicinity. Soon a couple of medical students were eagerly on hand and only too happy to help with re-splinting Anna's leg, along with various other medical checks. They removed Anna's shoes and socks for an examination and they too thought the left leg was broken. Then appeared a doctor who also concluded the leg was likely broken. The consensus seemed fairly unanimous - that it was broken. Even to the point of asking Anna where she would prefer to have her leg reset. Locally or back in the UK? Locally Anna replied without hesitation. At least it looked to be in the lower third of the tibia rather than at the actual joint I thought. Our bags made a nice prop to maintain the leg in an elevated position for the current time. Incidentally her right foot, despite being able to hop down the scree slope, also wasn't feeling too good either.

Receiving first aid at the bottom of the Index chair lift

Despite the efforts of carrying Anna to within a few hundred metres of the Flégère cable car station a helicopter was summoned by the medical team. Having read 'Life and Limb' I naturally thought that Anna would be taken to the hospital in Chamonix. As it happened it no longer an A&E and so Anna would be flown to the hospital at Sallanches, further down the valley. In the meantime a foil blanket was located to keep Anna warm and Anna donned her buff like a bonnet to make herself look extra special. The student doctors suggested with a laugh that I take a photo and of course I obliged:

Keeping warm whilst waiting for the helicopter

We waited a short while before the sound of rota blades resonated from the valley. The helicopter set down out of sight just below the chair lift and soon a mountain rescue team appeared. Anna was strapped to a stretcher and whisked away with great efficiency, leaving just her backpack. Also her shoes and socks, as Anna had concluded that these would be unessential baggage, were her leg to be reset shortly after touchdown.

I took the last cable car down to the valley with Anna's belongings in hand. One of the lift attendants kindly offered me lift back into Chamonix. I then set about working out how I was going to get to Sallanches hospital. Or more to the point where was Sallanches? Jumping in a taxi and paying whatever the asking price looked the best option. I hadn't eaten much during the climb and I didn't expect much food to be available at a hospital on a Saturday night so first I needed some food, as well as get a quick wash. Then I needed to pack some things for Anna, based on the assumption that she would likely be admitted.

The phone rang as I was walking towards the train station to find a taxi. It was Anna. Contrary to expectations the x-rays had shown no fractures and she had been discharged. Also, the pain in her left leg had receded a little so that she was able weight-bare and walk at a snail's pace. She was planning to catch a train from the station down the road back to Chamonix via St Gervais. She of course had no footwear but the hospital had provided her with some blue foot covers so at least she wasn't completely barefoot. I looked at trying to meet her in St Gervais but quickly realised that she would have boarded her connecting train before I could get to St Gervais. It seemed the best thing was to just wait in Chamonix. In the meantime she would have to put-up with teenagers laughing at her foot covers on the train platform...

When the train pulled up at Chamonix I had the walking poles at the ready and a pair of shoes and socks to be returned. It was good to see Anna smiling and walking independently and because both her feet were feeling equally sore she was actually walking without a limp. Albeit very slowly like an old lady. Anyway, wine and fondue were calling us. We were flying home the following day so there was nothing more now to do than relax and applaud the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc runners courageous efforts towards the finish line.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Midi-Plan Traverse (AD)

I will admit that maybe I am not the best person to plan a 'gentle' day...

We had climbed the two previous days with no prior acclimatisation and Anna was feeling a little exhausted. The Midi-Plan Traverse sounded a steady day in principle, given that there would be little height gain or loss once we had climbed from the Cosmiques hut to the ridge descending from the Midi Station. Technical difficulties we anticipated would be low, plus I had traversed the first part of the ridge a couple of times before so had some beta to back this up. The routes was graded III for seriousness in the Damilano guide, indicating "a long route with a difficult descent. Maybe some objective dangers" but this I attributed to the length of the ridge, with limited options for making a quick escape in poor weather. The forecast looked no cause for concern though with only cloud expected in the afternoon. By this time I anticipated we largely have completed the route. We also planned to descend the Glacier d'Envers du Plan to the Requin Hut and then onto the Montenvers railway rather than backtrack all the way to the Midi Station, thereby reducing our time on the ridge. The Philippe Batoux book estimated 3:30 hours to the Aiguille du Plan and then a further 4 hours to reach Montenvers so with an early start we expected to be in Chamonix by the evening. At it happened it would not arrive in Chamonix until the third day...

The Traverse

We left the Cosmiques hut at 5am and shortly after were greeted by a fine sunrise. As with the previous two days the snow conditions were perfect although the temperatures were only just maintaining freezing now.

Early morning panorama

Our early start meant we were a significant way along the ridge by the time the first cable car arrived, although only one other party made tracks in our direction. We followed an existing trail which made going easy and where this became the steeper the snow became stepped. We moved together on a relatively short rope following the exposed ridge which rapidly dropped away on either side of us, intermittently stopping to admire the fantastic panorama. Grandes Jorasses looked magnificent.

View back to the Aiguille du Midi

Once at the Col du Plan we dropped the coils and moved together maintaining a handful of runners between us. We couldn't locate the abseil from the first rocky section on Rognan du Plan and so instead we skirted along the snow slopes on the Southern side. Here the snow was much softer and less stable... A sneak preview of what was to follow. Cloud thickened as we approached the top of Rognan du Plan, then unexpected snow began to blow in from the North. Visibility soon dropped to less than a rope length, and the wind picked up a little. Nothing of major concern though - it was just like a regular day out in Scotland now.

Climbing above the Col du Plan
Before the Rognan du Plan descent
Skirting the initial small abseil on Rognan du Plan 

Route finding down the south side of Rognan du Plan proved less than straight-forward. I started my abseil from the first collection of tat that presented on the ridge but 30m below I found no opportunity to continue. We made a 20m traverse further right to another assortment of hanging tat. Two further abseils down a steep corner system took us to the bottom (one more than expected overall). It didn't look attractive to try and retrace.

Descending from Rognan du Plan

The snow conditions on the South side were a marked contrast to what had largely gone previous. Firm neve had given way to soft, unstable snow that didn't lend well to moving together. On the plus side we were out of the wind. We made a belay of sorts. I then lead out right towards where the Col Supérieur du Plan would lie. It's exact location currently a mystery in the white-out. Carefully I kicked in steps whilst stabbing the soft snow slightly pointlessly with my axes for some sort of reassurance. I skirted beneath the compact granite that offered little in the way of runners.

At 55m I found a belay, after which it was Anna's turn to continue into the murk. I could see Anna's anxiety levels were creeping into the red and so we agreed to forego the summit and to head down as soon as possible from the col. I wasn't that bothered about continuing to the summit unless we were both happy to climb the final section and I certainly wasn't about to leave Anna sat in the snow waiting whilst I nipped up. The snow slope above the col would probably be easy but there was a short rocky section to the summit and no doubt the round trip would still take a reasonable time. The possibility of worsening weather was also playing at the back of my mind together with how far we currently now were from anywhere.

By now it was after 11am so we were way off track. Realistically we were aiming for the Requin hut rather than Montenvers, although we hadn't openly acknowledged this yet. We still hadn't found a trail leading down yet... maybe there wasn't a trail and we would need to navigate down in poor visibility.

With Anna's pitch completed there was still no indication as to where the descent route lay. The col felt close at hand though as the granite walls of Rognan du Plan were coming to an end. I nipped around a small rocky band and was delighted to see a clear trail in the trail heading straight down. What we didn't know was the the poor state of the glacier below...

Descent from Col Supérieur du Plan 

The steepness of the descent combined with the wet instability of the snow meant it was safer to face inward for the first few hundred metres. We crossed the bergschrund and dipped beneath the cloud of icy fog. The steepness eased up but soon the glacier became heavily crevassed. The trail weaved back and fourth in order to skirt each crevasse in turn. Without the trail we would have lost a lot of time navigating the maze. Then a crevasse that was partly filled-in necessitated us to enter it's jaws, descend a short way, and then leave it by similar means.

Just below the bergschrund

Entering the crevasse

Beyond the crevassed section the glacier steepened a little bit for 100m or so. The snow thinned out to expose hard ice littered with loose rock. Below this point the angle eased back, however between these two areas lay a short barrier of acutely broken ice. There looked to be no obvious way of avoiding the broken section and with the trail having dissolved with the snow the best thing seemed to be just to head straight down and work it out at closer quarters. Our crampon points superficially scratched the surface of the ice so we opted to abseil from a nearby boulder on the premise of saving time and avoiding the precarious descent.

I started my rappel descent. The broken section looked more unpleasant the closer I became. Fortunately towards the end of the abseil I spotted a better line of escape 30m to my true right. Here thin passage of snow skirted the adjacent granite walls to escape onto easy snow slopes beyond. I traversed in its direction but this left the rope kinking wildly at a couple of places above me where it hooked itself around the glacier debris. Anna did her best to straighten the rope on second but despite this the rope pinched itself behind a rock just below the abseil point. On the plus side our new point further right had a better coverage of snow above us so nipping up and freeing the rope and then descending proved an easy task. More time lost though...

The abseil

For the time being the way became much easier but ahead of us we could see the glacier once again dropped down more steeply out-of-sight in all directions towards the Glacier du Tacul , which still looked a long way below. We followed the trail across a broad snowfield to where it swung sharply left onto a more baron section. Here the snow thinned and the trail faded but judging by it's initial bearing I was pretty confident that the way off the glacier lay to its true left side. Straight down the middle towards the terminus I anticipated meeting seracs. We followed this leftward bearing towards the lateral portion. Here it became steeper, less continuous, and more precarious. Again we needed to uncoil the ropes in order to drop down a short icy step. Then to our relief we spotted a cairn on the lateral moraine ahead. We climb off the glacier and just beyond lay two more cairns. We felt overjoyed to finally be off the ice. It was now 3.30pm. The hillside was steep but clearly we had found the start of a trail that would lead us down to the Requin hut. A short way beyond we found the start of a sequence of thick ropes leading down the mountainside to an isolated smooth snowy glacier below...

Our cairn
...Note the steepness of the glacier behind us

We descended the ropes in sequence, hand over hand. The snow field below looked dirty and rotten and maybe a little mushy. Anna was first down the final rope. She stepped on the edge of the snow in just her boots, believing it soft enough not to warrant crampons. Next moment she was skating down the slope on her backside, with limbs flailing, in the direction of a nearby bergschrund, which she promptly swallowed her up head first. She dropped about 2 metres onto a ledge where she managed to claw enough of the ice with her fingertips to stop herself travelling another 6m further to its terminus.

Anna fell in here...

She hauled herself out and then sat in shock for about the next ten minutes. I did my best to comfort her by pointing out that it was at least a dead end so the worst case scenario would maybe have been just a few more bruises. Plus maybe falling in the hole was better than skating all the way down the glacier??

We crampon'ed up and descended the snow slope towards the right-hand side and back onto the moraine. The gradient eased up. We passed a couple of water pipes indicating the hut was close at hand. We joined a clear trail and then just beyond this sighted the huts at close quarters below.

A couple of men working on the exterior of the hut were the first that we met. The hut looked disconcertingly inactive but thankfully it was still open for business. But only just as the staff were in the throws of packing ahead of an early departure in the next few days. The main communal room was littered with belongings. The summer had been a bad one for business, due to the almost incessant rain, and with the glacier being in such a poor state they had not expected any more climbers to descend. In hindsight, knowing the condition of the glacier, we would have not descended.

Rain was due later in the evening and throughout the next day but we lost any urge to descend by foot all the way to Chamonix immediately. Instead we unpacked our bags, ordered some food and beer, and settled in...

Day 2

True to form, it rained through the night and into the following day with little let-up. The rain was too heavy to consider pushing on regardless. We hoped that maybe there was a chance to make a dash for it during the mid-afternoon when reportedly there would be a minor let-up but in reality this came too late and anyhow proved to be too brief. We passed the time reading and playing board games...

Day 3

When day 3 arrives you start to reflect that maybe the planned easy day had encountered complications...

Thankfully by the next morning the rain had passed and for the first time there were views of the surrounding peaks starting to emerge through the clouds. Finally it was time to make the descent to Montenvers. Navigating through the crevasses on the Glacier du Tacul was no easy task. The lady at the Requin Hut had advised us to stay left through the crevassed section. Maybe we had missed the point but this didn't look practical and so we zigzagged a tedious line through the higher middle portion of the glacier that felt a little futile at times. We needed to jump a couple of crevasses, which Anna was far from amused about. But once through the broken section things became much easier and the only real distractions were the wonderful views and periodic rockfall. The descent took far longer than expected due to the difficulties through the crevasses so we were very glad not to have tried the descent during later afternoon the previous day as would certainly have missed the last train. We stopped for an unsatisfactory ice cream at the Montenvers station then headed down. One things for sure was that we had earned a well-earned trip to the Micro Brasserie de Chamonix in the evening..

Descent from the Requin Hut
Dent du Geant
The Dru & Aiguille Verte
Descending the lower portion of the Glacier du Tacul

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Contamine-Mazeaud (AD+, 350m), Mont Blanc du Tacul

Contamine-Mazeaud was in really good condition. The extended period of poor weather through the majority of summer had brought a lot of snow to the high peaks but fortunately things had settled down prior to our trip. Now there there was an unusually large amount of snow for late August but an abundance of beautiful firm neve in wait. What's more the temperatures were holding well below freezing for the next few days. It meant harsh conditions for high rock routes but excellent conditions on moderately steep snow slopes.

The Tacul triangle in excellent condition

We initially moved together with 60m of rope trailing between us. Anna at the front crossed the bergschrund with ease and then continued without runners for maybe another 60 metres before the fear-o-metre tripped into the red. Herewith the snow was becoming more icy but inadequately so for ice screws so we descended down and left to some in-situ belay nearby tat.

Anna leading the initial snow slope

With one of us now secured to the mountain I took the lead with an assortment metal-wear clipped to my harness that would prove largely redundant during the climb. The climbing was steady but hard enough to warrant the belays. Every axe placement felt great although care was needed where a little more icy. The initial climbing on the second pitch from the initial belay was maybe the crux. It was steeper than the previous pitch but still easier than the sections on Chèré Couloir. The snow slopes funnelled gently into a narrower channel of steeper snow before the route opened out into much broader snowfield above, interspersed with isolated blocks of granite. From here the climbing became a little easier. I lead each pitch with little care for runners until maybe 50 metres had passed. Then came the challenge of finding some tat or a crack hidden beneath the snow where I could slot a cam. Sometimes we would need to move together a little distance but generally a belay appeared just when needed. Another British pair were matching us pitch-for-pitch so the chore of finding the next belay was also split depending on started up first.

Towards the top of the snowfield

Following the route to the top of the triangle looked a little discontinuous and contrived so we swung right towards the top of Chèré Couloir. After some moderate difficulties finding the couloir, followed by a stuck abseil rope (fortunately easy to retrieve), we were soon linking the abseils with ease. I knew from previously descending this way that it paid dividends to ignore many of the premature abseil points and aim for a full 60m each time. My previous descent this way it had been with a single rope and so had required a tedious ten abseils. Half ropes definitely hastened the progress. The crux pitches of Chèré Couloir were looking very easy compared to when I climbed it a few years previous with shallower channels of stepped-out ice markedly reducing their steepness.

Descending Chèré Couloir

Anna managed to find the bottom of the bergschrund toward the end of the final rappel. Then back to the Cosmiques Hut. Yes, the Cosmiques Hut! After many trips camping on the col below the hut I thought it was time I treated myself.


In the bergschrund